MITCHELL, S.D. -- “Will we ever see each other before this ends?”
That’s what Howard Moore asks his wife, Myrna, from his room at Avera Brady Health and Rehab, where he has been quarantined after suffering two strokes in February.
The only response Myrna could offer from the other end of the phone line in their Mitchell apartment was, “I don’t know.”
The Moores represent so many families currently torn apart by COVID-19. Moore, 88, had never been separated from his bride of 62 1/2 years for more than a few days, but now their relationship is relegated to phone calls, window visits and memories.
Moore, a Korean War veteran raised in Artesian, S.D., has not been able to experience a variety of his favorite activities, but being cooped up in a rehabilitation center amid a crippling pandemic is also forcing him to miss an event he never misses -- the Artesian Memorial Day celebration.
As a single man entering the United States Army in 1952, Moore missed his parents and brothers -- both of whom also served in the Korean War -- during his two-year stint, but it does not quite compare to being separated from his wife and their children, Chloe, Jerry, Roger and Cheryl.
“It’s been tough,” Moore said. “... I was more on my own at the time (of the war). I did miss my brothers and sisters and mother and dad, but it wasn’t quite like your own family.”
Upon learning he was drafted into the army, Moore’s father offered to get him a deferment. He could have remained on the family farm in Artesian to help care for his ailing father. Instead, Moore was adamant in fulfilling his commitment to the military.
He joined the artillery in hopes of an early release from the Army, and he eventually left Korea prematurely. Moore compared the Korean terrain to the Black Hills, and on a cold night he leaned against a stove, only for it to explode and damage 62 percent of the skin on his body.
To treat the burns, Moore was transferred to Japan, where he underwent three months of skin grafts before finally receiving his discharge in 1953.
“He said, ‘My country needs me, I’m going,’” Myrna said. “He could have stayed home to help his dad, but he said, ‘No, that isn’t the thing to do when your country needs you.’ His other brother joined the service, so all three were in the service at the same time.”
Returning to Artesian, Moore resumed raising bulls and cattle, and he also briefly owned a social club with a fellow veteran in Fedora, where he met Myrna. He eventually became a mail carrier for 30 years as he built a tight-knit family.
It took a period of time to divulge to Myrna about his war experiences, although he did mention working with artillery weapons damaged his hearing. Still, Myrna believes her husband’s toughness aided in surviving multiple strokes in the hospital and a doom-and-gloom prognosis during the early stages of his recovery.
As he battles to return to his former self, Moore also conjured enough strength in his nearly paralyzed arm to pen a love letter -- every word clear and concise -- to Myrna on her birthday.
But nothing could prepare Moore for a life devoid of physical contact and interaction with family members in person as opposed to waving through a window or a video chat on a screen. Moore is constantly worried about Myrna’s health as she has rarely left their apartment blocks away from Avera Brady during the pandemic.
“Unless you’ve been here in this position, you’d never know,” Moore said. “It’s kind of a tough deal. I miss (my family) a lot.”
Not all of the coronavirus isolation has been debilitating, though, as Moore has been able to find a few bright spots. He was not able to share his April 3 birthday in a party with his family but he received an estimated 100 cards, which he still enjoys reading.
Perhaps the biggest moment occurred months before the pandemic began, when he was selected as a member of Honor Flight during the summer for an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
With Myrna sidelined with recovery from open-heart surgery, it was a time he was able to share with his daughter, Cheryl, and it produced one of his most prized possessions -- a book of photos made by his granddaughter commemorating the trip. Now knowing he was able to participate before suffering a stroke and wading through a pandemic, it has amplified the experience, particularly being kept from his usual Memorial Day celebrations.
“I don’t think we’ve missed a Memorial Day in Artesian,” Myrna said. “We’d be going on Monday if it wasn’t for all of this. That was very important to him -- going to the cemetery and going to Memorial Day (celebration). They always have a nice program.”
With this year’s Memorial Day dampened, Moore hopes he will be able to attend next year, but like his favorite fishing and hunting trips or simply watching the cattle at the Moore Angus ranch in Artesian, it all remains on an indefinite hiatus until the virus can be adequately subdued.
It has created some uncertainty within his own thoughts, asking Myrna, “When am I ever going to get to hug you again?”
She naturally had the right answer, just as she has for more than six decades: “Oh, the day will come.”